- Release Date: September 3, 2013
- Label: Jagjaguwar
- Tracks On Repeat
It was a bold move for Justin Vernon to finally stray away from the lustrous plains of Bon Iver. A move that was met with heavy hearts. At least that’s how it might have seemed before listening to Repave, the utterly dazzling second record by Volcano Choir. Although high profile, it’s not as if Justin’s departure really represented any great tectonic shift though. Despite Vernon being most known for, and often confused as Bon Iver, the truth is that, chronologically at least, his work with Bon Iver only makes up a fragment of his tapestried discography. Indeed, the addition of other musicians – in Volcano Choir’s case, members of Collections of Colonies of Bees – just seems to further entice Vernon to write beguiling music.
That said, as ensemble a work as Repave is, it is of course Vernon’s heart and soul which takes the prevailing lead. The various multi-instrumentalists make light work of rousing paeans ‘Byegone’ and ‘Tiderays’, and poignant Vernon-suited balladry like ‘Alaskans’, but achieve complex arrangements with such ease they often go, not unnoticed, but perhaps under-appreciated. And indeed, whilst the communal vocals on Acetate give a lush richness, and a hair-raising feeling that you’re witnessing some candid sing-along, it’s Vernon’s voice that really heralds the beginning of each track in earnest.
And perhaps therein lies the key to Repave’s brilliance. Whereas Unmap was a fragile collection of fragments, shells of ideas, Repave comes at a time after Vernon had taken centre stage amongst Bon Iver’s ever growing numbers, and still managed to retain a great clarity to his song writing. Unmap was written when Vernon was mostly earning his craft as sole songwriter, wrought and alone. But as time passed, and Vernon learnt to welcome others into his wintry world, he became as much a conductor as a singer-songwriter. And ultimately, no matter how incidental the players might seem in the end, that’s where Volcano Choir succeed; musicians working together behind a driving force to create a unified piece of splendour.
Underneath the obvious allure, the songs on Repave sound considered, but more importantly, complete. That’s not to say that Unmap didn’t have its charms, but the earlier Volcano Choir sounded like the rough, pretentious work of an art ‘collective.’ On Repave, Volcano Choir finally sounds like a band, albeit with their most successful member resplendently at the helm. Thankfully for them, Justin is no longer bon; he’s outstanding.
It’s an ambitious blend of old and new, but in only eight tracks, Repave manages to proudly unveil itself as a fitting successor in the Vernon lineage. The arpeggiating electronic riff on ‘Almanac’ somehow melds perfectly behind jangly acoustic guitars and skittish drums, before everything layers up into a beautiful confusion; a delightful summation of a sublime album.